A soldier who suffered years of nightmares after fighting alongside Prince Harry in Afghanistan was found hanging after an inquest heard claims he was not qualified to clear IEDs.
Royal Engineer Nathan Hunt, 39, was decorated for his courage after saving the lives of hundreds of comrades in Afghanistan by successfully identifying roadside Taliban bombs.
But his nerve-racking battlefield experiences took their toll on his mental health and, after failing to get the care he needed, he was found hanged at his Lincoln home on January 2.
An inquest at Lincoln Cathedral Centre today (Thursday, July 5) heard claims from one of Warrant Officer Hunt’s former colleagues that he was not properly qualified to clear IEDs when he was first deployed to Afghanistan in 2008 and was sent back to the region in 2009 despite showing signs of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. (PTSD)
WO Hunt protected Prince Harry as part of a desert reconnaissance unit in Helmand province in 2008, and was later mentioned in despatches.
Dean Smith, 47, who was WO Hunt’s search team commander during his first tour of Afghanistan in 2008, called for an investigation into the Household Cavalry Regiment, to which WO Hunt was attached.
Mr Smith, who left the Army in 2013, told the inquest engineers such as WO Hunt were not clear of their role.
“In 2008 it was not just about battles, blood and bombs,” Mr Smith said.
“I employed Mr Hunt illegally as an IED clearer, he was not qualified.
“That command pressure has got blood on their hands until today.
“The Household Cavalry Regimet should be investigated.”
WO Hunt’s widow Lainey Hunt, a Warrant Officer with 32 Engineer Regiment, like her husband, agreed that commanders should have known that Nathan was not fully qualified to clear IEDs.
In an emotional statement which she read to the inquest Mrs Hunt said: “The chain of command at the Household Cavalry should have known he was not fully qualified for this job.”
Army records showed WO Hunt had suffered with dark moods earlier in his career but Mrs Hunt told the inquest she saw a change in her husband’s mental condition after he witnessed an incident where a vehicle was blown up during his first Afghanistan tour.
“From 2008 to the day he died Nathan suffered,” Mrs Hunt told the inquest.
“He suffered from nightmares and sleeplessness, and I would see him crying.
“I do believe Nathan wanted to end the nightmares and decided to end his life that night.”
The inquest heard WO Hunt suffered depression and mood swings that caused his marriage to end in divorce in 2014.
But the couple were still best friends and he remained a loving father to their nine-year-old daughter, Megan, and had spent Christmas 2017 with his family.
Mrs Hunt told the inquest: “He didn’t sleep for five nights and I was worried about him driving back to Lincoln.”
WO Hunt returned to his own home in the Cathedral city after visiting his parents, Derek and Maria Hunt, on New Year’s Eve.
They raised the alarm after he failed to attend their home as arranged on New Year’s Day and reported that he was “very down” when they had last seen him, and they had talked to him about getting help in the New Year.
Police found WO Hunt in the sitting position with a leather belt around his neck which had been tied to a bannister when they forced entry to the modern townhouse in Westbrook Road, Lincoln, shortly before 10am on 2 January. No note was found in the house.
The inquest heard WO Hunt had consumed a significant level of alcohol and was due to leave the Army in September 2018 after 22 years of service but had a job to go to.
Army records which were disclosed at the inquest showed WO Hunt had a history of being treated for depression and had previously been downgraded to “limited deployment” but he subsequently completed a tour in Tunisia and there was never any full diagnosis of PTSD.
Passing a narrative verdict Paul Smith, the Area Coroner for Lincolnshire, said: “From those who knew him best it is clear WO Hunt had been suffering from sleeplessness and nightmares which he attributed to events during his service.”
But the Coroner said he could not be sure beyond all doubt from the evidence that WO Hunt had intended to take his own life.
The Coroner concluded: “Nathan John Hunt died as a result of putting a ligature around his neck.”
Speaking after the inquest Mrs Hunt described the decision to send her former husband back to Afghanistan for a second tour as “shocking.”
Mrs Hunt said: “After he returned from his first tour I sat down with Nathan as his wife and said to him ‘why are you doing this with IEDs, you are not qualified to do this, what is your chain of command doing?’
“It is like a clerk clearing IEDs, he wasn’t qualified to do it, and then to send him back to Afghanistan is shocking.
“I said to him ‘you’re not going to be doing the same job again.’ But he just didn’t want to let anyone down.”
Mrs Hunt said she believed her husband hid his symptoms at times to gain promotion, and criticised a “tick box” attitude at the time from the Army to mental health.
WO Hunt’s parents Derek, 66, and Maria Hunt, 64, also attended the inquest.
Speaking afterwards Derek, who was himself a career soldier, said: “Prince Harry has asked for a list of all those soldiers from 2007/2008.
“I am not happy with the verdict as we believe our son killed himself because he had PTSD.
“You don’t tie a ligature and drink alcohol unless that is your intention.
“We have already been to see Gavin Williams and Lord Dannatt because we wanted to raise this issue of PTSD, and we now have the 24 hour helpline.”
Maria added: “The Army would like it to be anything other than to acknowledge it was PTSD.”
Also speaking outside the inquest Mr Smith added: “2008 was not an easy war, it is known as the Prince Harry tour and he was a good bloke actually, but us engineers did not know where we were.
“Nathan wasn’t qualified to clear IEDs but he stood up to be counted.
“He was then sent back showing signs of PTSD, and the Household Cavalry Regiment need to disclose their records and say why.”
MOD refutes IED claim
Following the testimonies heard in the inquest on Thursday, July 5, the MOD offered condolences to family members and denied Nathan Hunt’s involvement in clearing Improvised Explosive Devices.
An MOD spokesperson said in a statement: ““The thoughts and sympathies of the MOD and the Army remain with the family and friends of WO2 Hunt at this sad time.
“The MOD strongly refutes the claim that Nathan Hunt was involved in clearing IEDs in Afghanistan, he was fully qualified to search for IEDs in order that a specialist team could clear the IEDs. He was not qualified to clear IEDs.”